Food, Wine, Good (and Evil) Spirits
The email was very cryptic: “The Blindfold Dinner, April 24, 2012, at Osteria Mamma”. There wasn’t even a time, let alone an explanation. But still, how could we resist? After all, Osteria Mamma is our favorite Italian restaurant and the email is from Filippo, one of Mamma’s two sons who I became friends with first while taking an Italian Wine Specialist course and then from endless dinners at their restaurant. I hit the “reply” key on the email and write “Peggy and I will be there. What time?”
As the dinner approaches, we start to wonder exactly what will happen. The questions we keep coming back to are: (i) will it just feel silly to be blindfolded while sitting in the middle of a restaurant? (ii) will the blindfold really affect the flavor of food and our experience of it?, and most importantly, (iii) how do we avoid spilling our wine all over the people next to us? We find out that this is to be Osteria Mamma’s second Blindfold Dinner, so Peggy looks up the first on the internet and discovers that after a course is served and been experienced blindfolded, you can finish the dish with your sense of sight. (That’s when we decide to just not drink anything until we can see so our fellow dinners will all be safe.)
We get to the restaurant and are led to the back room that has a long table set for about fifteen guests. In addition to Filippo, our other host for the night is Giammario Villa, a wine educator who was one of the teachers at my wine class. Giammario is also an Italian wine importer and he is pairing the wine for the night. (At this point Peggy and I quickly reconsider and decide Giammario’s wines will be more than worth any possible risk to the clothes of those sitting next to us.)
Handcrafted sips of any kind are my cup of tea. There is a true art behind signature tea blends and craft cocktails that make my taste buds sing. But maybe I'm biased...
Last year, I skipped over to P'unk Ave in Philly for a Junto discussion about The Craft Cocktail. It was a true treat to hear Felicia D'Ambrosio (fabulous Philly food writer and fermentation enthusiast), Mike Welsh (co owner The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Company) and Andrew Auwerda (president Philadelphia Distilling) share thoughts and tales about the resurgence, roots and culture of craft distilling and craft cocktails. By the end of the night I left feeling a bit giddy and excited for my continued journey in the world of the crafted drink.
That evening inspired me to research the man behind the first Junto club in Philadelphia, Mr. Ben Franklin. After a bit of edible exploration, it was clear that Franklin was crazy for cranberries and addicted to apples. His favorite flavors led me to create Franklin's Fix, a blend of ceylon black tea, freshly sliced NY apples, dried cranberries (although I would search for the unsweetened bag next time), and a dab of local PA honey.
Food and wine pairing. Everyone tries to do it well. Most of the time, you go by the old standards - steak with Cabernet, white wine with fish - with the best of intentions just hoping that they don't clash, but praying you hit it just right. You're hoping, praying you get the perfect mouthful, where the wine and food meld together into something unexpected, complementing and enhancing one another into a perfect delicious union. When that happens, and it's not often enough, it's truly magical.
There are countless books written on the subject. The "bible" being What to Drink with What You Eat. My copy is so over-used the binding has separated, causing pages to fall out whenever I open it. This book includes just about every food (though oddly not potatoes, but an entire section of cheese) and just what types of beverage (beer, cocktails and tea included) you should pair with each ingredient. We drink wine almost everyday in our house and it's been my passion over the last few years to try to not only become a better cook, but to be more successful at wine pairing. It's a frustrating, hit and miss operation.
What makes it worse is the fact that I usually hit the nail on the head when I don't actually follow a recipe, but mash a few together to accommodate what I have in my fridge and pantry. While these meals are a delight and help boost my confidence in the kitchen, they make me sad and a little angry when they're over because I won't be able to duplicate the experience. I never write it down because I go by taste and feel. Great for the dish, bad for posterity. I know it should be more about the journey, blah, blah, blah, but it would be great to have a few pairing/recipe locks in my repertoire.
I don't know about you but when Christmas is in the air, it's time for my favorite, favorite drink.....
Can you guess what it is? It's EGGNOG! I love it, in any shape or form and prefer it sans the alcohol....most of the time.
I even love the cheap stuff right out of the gallon jug at the supermarket (I know, I know, sometimes I'm desperate) or McDonald's Eggnog Shakes. My obsession runs deep with this one.
However, several years ago I started making my own Chai Eggnog and I've never looked back. Of course Chai is another obsession, so when you combine the two...oh mercy.
This is the perfect warming drink for a cold Sunday morning, what a way to start the day.
This warm and comforting drink is great on a cold day.
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces (Use a meat mallet or heavy saucepan to break into several pieces.)
Combine lime zest and juice, lemon zest and juice, sugar, and salt in large liquid measuring cup; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until flavors meld, 24 hours.
Toast spices in large saucepan over medium heat, shaking pan occasionally, until fragrant, 1 to 3 minutes. Add cider, orange zest, and sugar and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, using wide, shallow spoon to skim away foam that rises to surface. Pour cider through fine-mesh strainer lined with coffee filter and discard spices and orange zest. Serve. (Mulled cider can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to one week. Reheat before serving.)
– Recipe courtesy of Cook Like James
Warm yourself from head to toe with a hot drink on a blustery day like today. Mulled wine does that and more. Popularized in Germany and Scandinavia, mulled wine has been a holiday favorite for hundreds of years. Christmas markets in cities and towns all over Europe swell with shoppers who turn to mulled wine when they want to warm up their chilly fingers and toes. It really does have the effect of rosying cheeks and making spirits bright. Mulled wine is typically made with a good dry wine sweetened with sugar and flavored with various spices, including cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, among others.
In old fashioned times, wine was mulled to take away its foul or spoiled taste. The tradition was born out of practicality. But that is no longer the case. Use good but inexpensive wine for this drink. There's no reason to set the bank back when the flavor will come mostly from the spices you add. My version is based on a drink my father enjoyed. He used to love adding red wine to a cup of tea. It was his drink for when he needed to warm up after coming in from the cold outdoors, especially after we explored the wilderness together.
You heard me. This wine, which is made from the muscat grape in a
frizzante-style (mildly bubbly) in the Piedmont region of Italy, is one you should get
to know. Even though I drink a lot of wine – from sparkling
to port – it's easy to forget about Moscato. Mostly because I don't
often get the opportunity to drink it. I'm the only person I know who
loves dessert wine, so it's hard to justify opening a bottle to drink
all by myself. I have, it's just not something one should make a habit
of. Usually I have to quench my cravings for this delicate, fizzy
confection when I'm out to dinner. While everyone else digs into the
chocolate cake or bread pudding, I satisfy my sweet tooth by sipping.
All the pleasure, none of the fat.
Yes, muscat grapes make super-ripe, overtly-fruity, wildly-perfumed wines, but that's why they are so good with dessert. This family of grapes is grown all over the world and is one of the oldest recorded varietals, yet it fails to get any respect. Sure there are bad versions out there, but that's true with every grape. What I fail to understand is the complaints that it's too sweet…even versions that are fermented dry. A criticism I find fairly hollow coming from the mouths of people who drink soda, juice and sugar-laden caramel frappuccinos.
The quest for health and wellness continues. Kombucha is an acquired taste. A few years back, I picked some up at my local health food store. I was totally tuned off. This past year, I tasted homemade Kombucha at my friend, Carrie’s. I was hooked.
I loved it so much that when I left her house, I was gifted a little glass jar filled with my very own Kombucha culture. The 93 mile drive home was done with a big smile on my face.
My little jar sat in the passenger seat; I had company. The next day I purchased the few ingredients I needed to concoct my own black tea, fizzy cocktail. I was in business.
After my visit to Carrie’s I made it endlessly. There was always a batch brewing. I had to ration out the kombucha in the fridge so it would last the entire week. I lost weight, my sweet tooth subsided, and I was addicted.
Then I took a break. You ask why? I cannot answer that.
In Italy, digestivos are commonly drunk after the meal and when we were in Sicily, we certainly had our share of Averna after meals. But this digestive is drunk in the Venetian region of Italy and is bright, fresh and clean. A sgroppino is made by whipping together Italian Prosecco, lemon sorbet and vodka. Sgroppino means "to untie" as in, to "untie your stomach" after a meal. So you have a great excuse to make these after dinner! But hey, these are so refreshing we drink them on a hot summer day before dinner.
Some versions of this drink use gelato but most use sorbet, which has no dairy. When you make this drink, don't use a blender – whisk in the sorbet by hand so that it retains some of its texture. You don't want it too thick, but you don't want it real thin, either.
Homemade infused vodkas are the perfect gift to give -- they're relatively affordable, they're personalized, and they're booze! Who doesn't love a little liquor during the holidays? Whether you give a bottle or two to a close friend or a stranger whose name you drew for Secret Santa, it's a gift that's pretty sure to please.
The best part? Flavored vodkas are incredibly simple to make, even if you have no skills in the kitchen. We've got some step-by-step instructions for you to follow, and you'll be well on your way to some flavored merriment. And make sure to check out our slideshow of infusions below!